Get ‘em out & Check ‘em out

In a controversial move, The Sun launched a campaign this week to promote women checking for early signs of breast cancer in its usual Page 3 slot devoted to topless models.

Seeing the front page this Tuesday, I wondered if page 3 was featuring women with scars from a mastectomy, still confident and sexy like all the other glamour models that usually feature in each issue but displaying a harsh reality and raising awareness. When I discovered that the page featured a section with a cancer sufferer winking and playfully gasping her breasts with her tongue out, portraying the whole idea in a tongue-in-cheek fashion, it first made me feel like the paper was doing something disgraceful. I’ve changed my mind.

Right now I’m sure you’re asking whether sexualising something as tragic and heart-breaking as cancer really is the lowest of the low. Well my answer is no, it’s not awful – it’s clever. It’s the biggest (relevant and daily) platform and media outreach to the British public raising awareness and informing women of what to look out for that I can think of.

The pages promoting the launch of the new campaign in The Sun
The pages promoting the launch of the new campaign in The Sun

The reason for the front page and the new weekly feature of “Check ‘Em Tuesday” is down to The Sun teaming up with charity group Coppafeel! founded by Kristin Hallenga (a young woman suffering from incurable breast cancer featured in the paper) and it’s their info graphic I saw online that helped me change my mind and decide that what The Sun has achieved with this campaign is truly something to smile about.

The info graphic displays some simple facts:

– The Sun has 11.5 million readers per week, 5 million of whom are women (of which 1 in 8 are likely to develop breast cancer).

– It means that 625,000 female Sun readers are potentially at risk.

– If just 10% of them check their breasts for symptoms and thus manage to catch them in their first stage then a potential 63,000 women will have a 90% survival rate…all because they checked early.

The criticisms over the campaign haven’t of course been that The Sun is promoting women checking for symptoms – it’s been the suggestions that it has sexualised and even trivialised breast cancer by making it into something so light-hearted. Cancer is something serious, but making checking yourself into something much less serious means people might be more likely to think about it on a weekly basis.

We know that breast cancer exists, we know it’s awful and that there is no ‘fun’ side to it but what Coppafeel! and The Sun have done is make it something much less scary for men and women to deal with by breaking conventions. I recall an app for mobiles that Breast Cancer UK released around 2 or 3 years ago which enabled women to select a rather muscular male avatar to set up fortnightly reminders to check yourself – a tad creepy you might say (a tad sexualised I think!). It was  something my friends and I all laughed about in our common room at school just like the 30 other girls that had downloaded it that I knew and were perhaps now more likely to think twice.

Funny, sexy, tongue-in-cheek campaigns are the ones that resound.

Sometimes our judgements can be clouded by our own personal experiences. Tackling cancer is something very close to my heart; a few years ago I sat in a doctor’s chair feeling like I was about to be sick –  I was about to find out if the growth on my skin could be cancerous. It was the worst moment of my life and I’d happily go to any length and campaign in most interesting or inventive way possible to encourage people to not wait as long as I did to get checked out and to do really simple things to prevent their chances of developing skin cancer. This campaign really is inventive and engages with a consistently wide audience.

People that know how scary facing the possibility of cancer can be, will know that they’d do anything to prevent others from being in the same situation which is why I commend Kristin Hallenga for her work with Coppafeel! and The Sun who says that “it’s a brilliant platform to get across a life-saving message.”

For more information on breast cancer, this campaign and how to check for symptoms, you can head to the Coppafeel! website at

One thought on “Get ‘em out & Check ‘em out

  1. This is a comment piece that I wrote on the same subject, but from a different stand point:

    Page 3 has been a source of controversy recently, nationally and on campus. Last year there was a referendum motion to ban the Sun from YUSU retail outlets. Now there is a new twist in the page 3 saga, with the name “Check ‘em Tuesday”

    The Sun is combining efforts with the “CoppaFeel” campaign, to raise awareness of breast cancer, and how to catch it early. From now on, every Tuesday page 3 of The Sun newspaper will have a “cop a feel day”, allegedly to highlight cancer as a serious illness, to remind people to check women’s breasts every week, and to raise awareness of the early signs of breast cancer. While this is being publicised as a life saving campaign, I personally think it’s disgusting, and I’d like to tell you why.

    Firstly, and possibly the most obviously, claiming that page 3 is for the benefit of women just seems so sleazy, and is clearly a marketing ploy. Now if you buy the Sun every day you’ll get a weekly reminder to “cop a feel” without even having to think about it. Now people can buy the Sun everyday with the illusion they’re doing their bit for women’s health, and Murdoch gets a few extra quid in his pocket. But what about the societal costs?

    We’ve all heard about the campaigns and arguments against page 3, but this new development is so much worse. The campaign reminds readers to grope breasts to check for signs of cancer, but Sun’s page 3’s target audience is men, so its reminding men to grope women, with the excuse and reassurance that it’s for the greater good and women’s health. According to “cop a feel” means “to touch someone’s body without their permission in order to get sexual excitement”. Lets be clear everyone; groping a woman’s breast without her consent is sexual assault, whatever your intentions.

    It feels like the Sun are trying to justify keeping age 3 when they know so many people are against it. (two thirds of women, and many men). It sexualises a serious illness, and makes it seem like the only reason to catch breast cancer early is to save breasts because they’re sexy.

    Not only that, but it doesn’t raise awareness of cancer as a serious illness at all, quite the opposite. It sexualises breast cancer and completely ignores all other cancers that don’t have sex appeal. If we want to address the big killers, lung cancer would be a good place to start. 22% of all cancer deaths are from lung cancer. In 2010, nearly 50,000 women in the UK were diagnosed with invasive breast cancer, but less that 400 men. (Source: Cancer Research UK) The target audience of this campaign is men, so how about raising awareness of prostate cancer? Roughly 11,500 women died of breast cancer in the UK in 2011, but almost as many men (nearly 11,000) died of prostate cancer in the same year. Why not have an awareness campaign for that, since the target audience is men?

    And while we’re so concerned about women’s health and cancer risks, let’s bear in mind that the women applying for the page 3 modelling jobs probably won’t even be considered unless they spend hours in tanning beds, increasing their risk of skin cancer.

    The women on page 3 are 18-25 years old, so at low risk of breast cancer. They’re not going to show 40 or 50 year old women topless as part of a campaign to remind people to “cop a feel” and check their breasts. And they’re not going to show topless women who’ve had mastectomies or have lost their hair, to show that they can still be beautiful and sexy, because as far as the Sun is concerned losing your breasts is the same as losing all your femininity and everything that makes you attractive as a woman.

    From the Sun website: “Page 3’s are the most famous boobs in Britain and will act as a fantastic reminder to all Sun readers to get to know their breasts.” I know that sentence is aimed at women, but the phrase “all Sun readers” (in the case of page 3, mostly men) and then the possessive “their breasts” is really creepy

    Breast cancer is the most publicised cancer already, with the most research funding and available information on how to recognise it. There are lots of sources of information on breast cancer and other cancers, how to check for symptoms, and text and e-mail reminders to check yourself that don’t come with misogyny, gratuitous nudity, and the sexualisation of women and serious illnesses.

    For free monthly text reminders to check your breasts, text “boobs” to 70300

    For more information on breast cancer, how to check yourself and recognise symptoms:

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